Logic Aid

Since logic is the method of reason, books on logic ought to be supremely valuable. But that value is definitely not obtainable from what is available in bookstores today.

The problem is not merely that no book has been written to incorporate the discoveries of Ayn Rand in epistemology. Nor is the problem merely that modern errors in epistemology are present in the current logic texts. The problem is that the modern texts proceed from the linguistic, formalistic context of contemporary philosophy. As a result, the logic texts currently in print generally range from misleading to worthless; many of them are actually destructive of logical thinking.

Until very recently, virtually the only resource available to someone seeking training in genuine logic has been the tapes of the excellent logic course by Leonard Peikoff. But now, two valuable older books have been returned to print by The Paper Tiger: Lionel Ruby’s Logic: An Introduction and H.W.B. Joseph’s An Introduction to Logic.

Ruby’s book was first published in 1950; the second edition of 1960 is the one now republished. This is an elementary textbook that reflects the philosophic climate of the early to mid-twentieth century—i.e., it has enough remnants of the nineteenth century that, in comparison to the philosophic shambles of today, it seems clear-headed and common-sensical.

Though the content is marred by the influence of Pragmatism and by frequent though unintended elements of subjectivism, the alert and philosophically informed reader can mine its pages for much helpful exposition of and training in the principles of traditional, Aristotelian logic. Even where Ruby is dead wrong on an issue, his presentation is clear, interesting—and often helpful in providing a clear foil against which to contrast the truth.

Ruby covers all the (once) standard topics, from the syllogism to informal fallacies to scientific method and induction. From the standpoint of philosophic theory, his best section is on the three laws of logic: Identity, Non-Contradiction, and Excluded Middle. He ably defends these laws against a gamut of skeptical objections.

Another notable positive feature is Ruby’s advocacy of what he calls "The Law of Rationality": "We ought to justify our conclusions by adequate evidence." This is a step toward Ayn Rand’s recognition that reason requires one to dismiss the arbitrary and follow the Onus of Proof principle (see Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand).

There is little value, if any, in the first two chapters (on language and "meaning"), and certainly none in chapter 13 (on symbolic logic)—these, at minimum, may safely be skipped. The section on definitions is far too brief, particularly on the topic of "essence."

But helpful exercises follow each section, and the book’s examples offer a welcome change from the current practice of slanting everything in favor of "politically correct" viewpoints. Imagine: Here’s a logic text that brings up the Hitler-Stalin pact as an example—and does so more than once. Though the book aims to be "neutral" on politics and religion, the fact that certain facts are even named and certain questions are even raised for analysis makes the book effectively opposed to both communism and supernaturalism. And throughout the book, Ruby makes an effort, though often mild and inadequate, to defend rationality against skepticism, relativism, subjectivism, and dogmatism.

The second book, Joseph’s An Introduction to Logic, is anything but introductory. It is a very advanced and very brilliant work on the philosophy of logic, in the Aristotelian tradition. First published in 1906, it is a high-water mark in the field, showing how much we have lost over the ensuing decades. In a no-nonsense, almost diffident style, Joseph proceeds to tackle the most profound issues with the level-headed, fact-centered seriousness of a first-hand thinker.

In his Preface to the first edition, Joseph writes: "There is a body of what might be called traditional doctrine in Logic. … In the course of centuries, the tradition has become divergent, and often corrupt. In this difficulty, I have ventured … to go back largely to its source in Aristotle." But this book is not merely an exposition of Aristotelian doctrine, and Joseph does not hesitate to disagree with Aristotle on several points, backing up his disagreement with good reasoning. Significantly, he rejects the (arguably) Aristotelian position that essences are metaphysical, correctly interpreting essences as relative to some specified concept.

The scope and depth of the book is too grand to convey with justice in a brief note. In its 600 pages, it covers terms (concepts), categories, "the predicables," definitions, propositions, syllogisms, induction, causality, and scientific methodology. Philosophically, there are some points with which an Objectivist will disagree (including a limited concession to the "analytic-synthetic" dichotomy). But in the main, Objectivists will be cheering. On causality, for example, Joseph states: "The world, as we have already insisted, is not a mere procession of events, but the events concern things; a cause is a thing acting; it produces a change in some thing." And: the law of causality "is no more than a corollary of the Law of Identity, that the same thing unaltered on different occasions, or two things of the same nature, should under the same conditions produce the same effect." And: "A thing, to be at all, must be something, and can only be what it is. To assert a causal connection between a and x implies that a acts as it does because it is what it is; because, in fact, it is a."

The chapters dealing with induction are well worth study, though Joseph’s theory of induction is probably deficient. He holds that inductions are essentially eliminative: "The essence of inductive reasoning lies in the use of facts to disprove erroneous theories of causal connexion. … The facts will never show directly that a is the cause of x; you can only draw that conclusion, if they show that nothing else is."

This is a challenging, technical book by a great mind, a book that will reward the advanced student of logic who gives it the careful study it deserves.
                                                             —Harry Binswanger

Copyright 2000 Harry Binswanger. Posted with permission. All rights reserved. This review originally appeared in the October 2000 issue of  The Intellectual Activist magazine



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